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The Crying Game

For the past few years, Dashboard Confessional have been a relentless cult phenomenon, with fans who fill large arenas, bond online, and memorize painfully intimate songs as if they were smash hits. But who is the man behind Dashboard? Where did he come from? And why do kids break down in tears at his concerts? Now a new album backed by big money will try to make the cult go pop

By: Andy GreenwaldFor the past few years, Dashboard Confessional have been arelentless cult phenomenon, with fans who fill large arenas, bondonline, and memorize painfully intimate songs as if they were smashhits. But who is the man behind Dashboard? Where did he come from?And why do kids break down in tears at his concerts? Now a newalbum backed by big money will try to make the cult go pop

For the past few years, Dashboard Confessional have been a relentless cult phenomenon, with fans who fill large arenas, bond online, and memorize painfully intimate songs as if they were smash hits. But who is the man behind Dashboard? Where did he come from? And why do kids break down in tears at his concerts? Now a new album backed by big money will try to make the cult go pop

Chris Carrabba is dressed in black, with a skate-company baseball cap pulled low over his huge, dark eyes and a hood cinched tightly around his head. You’d think he was safe. But not in front of these kids. They saw him coming a mile away.

“Chris! Chris!” they yell. A chubby boy asks for an autograph, and two skinny girls, bordering on hysteria, tug at his arms. Soon he’s surrounded. One cynic asks if Carrabba is in ‘N Sync and gets hushed. A boy with glasses says, “Chris, we have something to show you.”

“What is it?” he asks patiently.

“It’s a snake,” says the boy, thrusting a wiggling green lizard underneath Carrabba’s nose. From the parking lot, the mothers of the eight- and nine-year-olds smile and laugh. It’s like this whenever “Mr. Chris” shows up.

It’s a November evening in Boca Raton, Florida, and Chris Carrabba is walking the breezeways of J.C. Mitchell Elementary School, where, in the days before becoming known as Dashboard Confessional, he worked as a director of the special-education after-school program. Carrabba is small and birdlike, yet he moves among the swarming children with confidence and patience. He remembers each child’s name and never pulls away from any of them while he’s speaking to his former colleagues about adult concerns (like mutual friends in rehab).

Though the cult of fans who live, die, breathe, make out, and IM to Dashboard Confessional’s music are considerably older than those who surround him here, Carrabba’s attitude toward them is markedly similar. “You should never ever talk to kids like they’re kids,” he says later while driving to his mother’s house nearby. “You talk to them like people. You think they don’t know what’s going on? Adults are so jaded by the world that we think we understand it. At least kids get the fact that they don’t understand it yet…”

For more, pick up a copy of SPIN’s March issue, on newsstands now

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